Friday, June 20, 2008

School Myths

Before we can have an honest discussion about how to improve our schools, we need to lampoon several myths that have risen to the level of “common sense”.

Myth #1: A student’s failure is the fault of his home environment.
This is the number one refrain we hear from the educrats – don’t blame the teachers, they can only do so much.

Imagine there’s a train wreck because two rail workers were asleep at the switch. Who’s to blame? The engineer and the rail workers were each relying upon someone else to do his job. The answer is they’re all to blame. Had any one person been properly doing his job, the crash would have been avoided.

The remarkable thing about the educrats’ argument is that, while refusing to accept responsibility for failure, they’re quite eager to take credit for success. Meanwhile, if they were quicker to accept responsibility for failure, they’d be more likely to achieve success.

To demonstrate how broken the system is, let’s look at Holmdel, an educrat’s dream community. In 2000, the median family income was $122,785, 60% higher than Aberdeen’s $76,648. The student body is almost entirely white and Asian. The district acts as a magnet for families who want, and can afford, to give their children an excellent education. The school district has all the ingredients for success.

How’d they do? On the New Jersey State HSPA exams for 11th graders, only half scored above 75% in language arts literacy, only a third scored above 75% in math, and only a quarter scored above 75% in science.

How is it that an educated parent body would tolerate such a failure rate? Because after years of being conditioned to defer their judgment to the “experts”, they’ve been bamboozled into believing their kids are receiving a top notch education. After all, when teachers send the students home with underserved A’s and B’s, who are we to challenge their judgment? If we ever tested our students against their international peers, it would mark the end of the government monopoly on education.

Myth #2: Students are the district’s primary concern.
Oh, how I wish that were so. In the past 10 years, not a single tenured instructor has been terminated. The school administration has made it crystal clear that they will not pull a tenured teacher out of the classroom, no matter how poor a teacher he is, unless he commits a crime. Robbing a child of his opportunity to learn isn’t sufficient cause to remove a teacher.

Look at the following example: In 2004, the Matawan Regional Teachers Association filed the following grievance with the state Public Employment Relations Commission “The grievance contests the withholding of a computer science teacher’s salary increment for the 2003-2004 school year. The Commission concludes that this withholding was triggered by the conclusion that hacking by students into school computers and other student misconduct occurred during the teacher’s class.”

So, there’s a computer teacher who’s so oblivious to what’s happening in his class that his students have the gall to use class time to hack into the school’s network. More remarkably, the students had so much unsupervised time, they succeeded. The students are engaged in criminal activity under this teacher’s supervision for an extended period of time yet the administration still assigns this teacher to another class the following year. (Not to mention the teacher’s union that had the chutzpah to protest the withholding of his salary increment.)

You cannot argue that education is your priority when you assign students to teachers like these.

Myth #3: Under no circumstances will we negotiate the safety of our students.
There’s no mandatory retirement age for school bus drivers. Think about that the next time a substitute driver is used to bring your kids home.

Myth #4: The more training a teacher gets, the better teacher he becomes.
According to a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “having a graduate degree has little effect on student achievement. Teachers who entered teaching with a master's degree, or who earned it within five years of beginning to teach, were as effective as teachers without a master's degree. Teachers who earned a master's degree more than five years after they started teaching were less effective than those without master's degrees.”

According to the study, having a master’s degree in teaching is more likely to impair than improve a teacher’s performance. Meanwhile, the majority of our teachers are getting their master’s degrees in “Curriculum Studies”. This is essentially a master’s degree in developing a lesson plan and they get the same $10,000 salary boost for their master’s plus 30 as the teacher who gets a master’s in history.

Let’s compare the average teacher with a master’s degree in education to a recent college grad who’s only training is a five-week boot camp sponsored by Teach for America. A recent Wall Street Journal editorial reported that an Urban Institute study found that “[o]n average, high school students taught by TFA corps members performed significantly better on state-required end-of-course exams, especially in math and science, than peers taught by far more experienced instructors. The TFA teachers' effect on student achievement in core classroom subjects was nearly three times the effect of teachers with three or more years of experience."

Myth #5: Teachers are underpaid.
Who would argue that baseball players should be earning more than teachers? Well, anybody who believes in a market economy would. Considering how many qualified applicants we have for every open teaching slot in our schools, any economist would say we’re paying above the market rate. Compare their salaries, generous healthcare and pension benefits, summers off, and schedules that match their children’s, to workers in the private marketplace, or even to teachers at private schools.

A corollary to this argument is that you need high salaries to attract highly qualified people. Well, please refer back to the Wall Street Journal editorial – “Eleven per cent of Yale's senior class, 9% of Harvard's and 10% of Georgetown's applied for a [Teach for America] job whose salary ranges from $25,000 (in rural South Dakota) to $44,000 (in New York City).” Yup, these college grads turned down jobs in corporate America to become public school teachers in some of the nation’s roughest districts.

Myth #6: Performance incentives would not improve education.

The educrats would have us believe that performance incentives work in every industry around the world except in education. Teachers unions are so horrified by the concept of merit pay that, in Seattle, they rejected education grants that would have given teachers over $2.5 million in performance bonuses.

Yet, merit pay works. According to a study by the University of Florida, “[p]ay incentives for teachers had more positive effects on student test scores than such school improvement methods as smaller class sizes or stricter requirements for classroom attendance.”

Given a thousand dollars to spend, which do you think would have a greater impact – having a teacher take another training course or offering the thousand as a bonus for higher student performance?

Next time we talk about our public schools, let’s try to keep it real.
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brianinthebeach said...

Great points, don't know if your new policy is working so well. I hope people don't stop commenting, it is very easy to sign up.

Keep up the good work, I think you should run for council next election.

Aberdeener said...

The blog has definitely suffered since the change in policy. Even those people who already had aliases are no longer posting comments.

I've also withheld from posting certain information for fear of inflaming any of my readers.

Yet, the number of unique visitors to the site hasn't changed. People are reading the blog but they refuse to comment.

The new policy will remain in effect for three more weeks. After that, we'll play it by ear.

Green and White Villager said...

Hey, I thought i would break the ice and leave a message. I have been reading for months, but this is my first post. I like the idea anyway, because it was hard trying to follow all of the comments written by too many "anonymous's". Anyway, keep up the good work. My focus this year at the BOE meetings is going to be on Curriculum and the new Superintendent's Organizational Chart ( replacing Kim Honnick's position). I am REALLY looking forward to seeing what a Superindentent with an Educational background can do for our kids as opposed to the MESS BRUCE QUINN left us with. The 2007 TEST SCORES WERE AWFUL, and that needs to be the #1 priority!
Aberdeener, can the readers post a TOP TEN list of the most important items we, the parents (and taxpayers) think need to be addressed this fiscal year? As I recall, Ms. Demarest certainly couldn't think of too many when you asked her at the May BOE meeting!

KrisMrsBBradley said...

I think you might also be loosing comments just because of the beginning of summer vacation and nice weather. Blogs of all kinds take a hit when the kids are home and the weather is nice.

I've been reading when I can, but haven't had much time for commenting.

I think if people find a subject they feel strongly about, they will take the time to comment, whether they have to register or not.

Keep up the good work, and post what's important. I know you'll have readers waiting to see what comes next.

Aberdeener said...

Thanks, GWV and MrsB. I hope you're right in that I'm overreacting to the sudden drop in comments.

GWV, I think you have a good suggestion in asking people to list their top ten desires for the school district.

I have two goals regarding the school district - Short term, to change the mission statement to "Empower parents to determine the best education for their children". Long term, to change the school district to a charter school.

To give an indication how difficult these goals are, a majority of board members and administration officials that I've addressed oppose the idea of allowing parents to indicate their preferences for which teachers instruct their children.

That they don't even want to allow parents to simply say they prefer one teacher over the other demonstrates a certain arrogance in that they feel they're more qualified than the parents to determine what's best for our children.

I believe I speak for others when I say I'm better qualified than the school administration and the BOE to determine what's in my children's best interests.

pun26 said...

I agree with you're assessment of the false A's and B's given out to our children to fool us into believing that they are recieving a good education. When my son received his report card I saw he recieved a "G" in French. )Not to go off on a tangent, but what use does a 3rd grader have with French anyway? There are 2 languages in this country English and Spanish. I have never called the customer service of any company and heard "Press 1 for French".)Anyway, I call him and congratulated him on his proficiency in the "Language of Romance" as reported by his teacher. I asked him to say anything in French. My answer was, "I don't know French. I hate French. Its stupid." You might be thinking that maybe he didn't want to say anything in French. I would agree, but I know when my son is lying. This kid didnt know any French.
The problem with the schools and life in general is the lack of competition. There is nothing to strive for anymore. When I was growing up the children were classified. Classes were number 1-4. The lower the number the smarter the class. I also had the same children in my class year after year. This is called building friendships. As I am typing this I am at work with 2 of my friends that I know since kindergarten and graduated HS with. I studied hard in school so that I could stay in my class and not get seperated from my friends. The "old style" non politically correct way of doing things is usually the best way and should be revisited. I can go on and on but I have to work now, my taxes are due.

brianinthebeach said...

Just look at where all of our graduates go to college. Brookdale Community College leads the list, not exactly a top flight program. I am not trying to knock the college, but we should have kids going to better schools.

"S" on the street said...

Kudos for the students who chose to stay in Monmouth County and attend Brookdale. They are the smart ones who realize that your first two years are core subjects that must be taken at any college.

brianinthebeach said...

If that is the reason they go, I understand. The fact is most can not get into the better colleges and universities, due to grades and high school course selection.
I don't disagree that community college is good for some people and some reasons, but lets be honest with why the kids from MRHS are going there.